May 25, 2001


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Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta

'Gen Musharraf Sir, this is against your national interest'

I first heard Pervez Musharraf's name in 1990 when, as a brigadier, he was attending the prestigious one-year-long course at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London's leafy Belgravia.

Six years earlier I had done this very course with Musharraf's now redoubtable interior minister, Lieutenant General (retired) Moinuddin Haider. As colleagues at Belgravia, Haider and I would re-fight the 1971 war over forbidden nectar ever so often so that he could avenge that shameful defeat, at least by the persuasion of his argument over the ethics of that war.

Back in 1984, he warned that one day Pakistan would take revenge for India's creation of the Mukti Bahini and Bangladesh. Today, Haider and his team under Musharraf's direction are using the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, amongst others, for 'liberating' Jammu & Kashmir.

The thesis that Musharraf wrote at Belgravia was: Can Pakistan and India live peacefully together or are they destined to remain in eternal hostility? The findings of his study were not as pessimistic as events have turned out.

Both Musharraf and Haider have doggedly refused to rein in the fidayeen (suicide squads) in the proxy war. The agenda is Kashmir or nothing.

Musharraf's colleagues at the RCDS remember him as pleasant, affable, and an extrovert, certainly not Islamic or fundamentalist. He was fond of one or two, or even three or four sundowners. The commandant of the college had given him an 'outstanding' grade: 'I would be surprised if he doesn't reach the top of his profession.'

He has achieved much more than becoming the chief of army staff. He is also now the designated chief executive officer of Pakistan.

Amongst his many sterling qualities, one that has surprised many is the ease and skill with which he comes across the print and visual media. At the RCDS they run an excellent capsule on handling the media where Musharraf must have picked up a few tips. No other military dictator in Pakistan has devoted as much time to public relations and succeeded in extending his credibility and sincerity as he has. His interviews reflect a full grasp of matters of statecraft, diplomacy and economy.

A study of his interviews shows his abiding belief in 'national interest'. Whether it is the military takeover, his extension as army chief beyond October 12, 2001, or moving on to become the president or establishing a national security council or even telling lies -- everything in his book flows from national interest.

Musharraf has declared that he will not retire as scheduled since his services are required for purposes of continuity and supreme national interest. In other words he has a minimum agenda for Pakistan that requires giving himself an extension. He has, therefore, revived the post of deputy chief of army staff and appointed the seniormost Lt Gen Muzaffar Usmani -- commander of the Karachi-based 5 Corps -- to whom he is indebted for his present job. Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz, the intrepid chief of general staff during Kargil and now 2 Corps commander at Lahore, who is seen as a contender for the job of army chief, is being made to sweat it out.

Even more than 1999 (the year of the takeover), the year Musharraf likes to recall is 1993. That was the year he was appointed director general of military operations. It was from then that he became privy to the politics played by the army -- the mediatory role the army chief had to play in keeping the peace between the president and prime minister on the one hand and between the president and the chief justice on the other.

Although Musharraf believes the army has to have an institutionalized role in the governance of Pakistan, he is no longer publicly invoking his ideal -- Kemal Ataturk of Turkey. This has probably to do with the mullahs' abhorrence of the secular Turkish model. His preference now is to become a Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt since 1981.

The conclusion that Musharraf has drawn is that the NSC is the minimum prerequisite for the military to step aside or phase itself out before the restoration of civilian rule. His predecessor, Gen Jahangir Karamat, who had called for the establishment of the NSC, lost his job doing so. Musharraf's argument is that though the NSC may be out of sync with modern times, it is a must in a developing country like Pakistan. This is the army's favourite line for creating checks and balances for controlling democracy.

One can now get a good idea of the shape of things to come in Pakistan. The CEO has decreed that both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharief will not be allowed to return to Pakistan, leave alone return to politics. They are distant entities with each having had two shots at ruling Pakistan and failing. Neither is considered a threat to the army any more. The CEO has to be reminded that the day he was doing Haj, the king of Saudi Arabia was dining Nawaz Sharief.

Musharraf is jubilant about local elections and has claimed that more than 80 per cent of those elected are first-timers and are not uneducated. After October the army will deal through the 106 elected district chiefs. The devolution plan has received acclaim and support from the United Kingdom, Germany and the United Nations Development Programme.

But the question everyone is asking is: What is the army's plan for restoring national and provincial assemblies? Will there be fresh elections? Musharraf has promised to go by the Supreme Court order for the restoration of civilian rule by October 2002. Thus a Mohammad Khan Junejo-type civilian government, which will do the bidding of the president, is the likely future scenario. Musharraf has not ruled out his becoming the next president. There is no dearth of offers for electing him president, were he to restore the National Assembly.

The army is likely to maintain the sanctity of the 1973 Constitution with certain amendments that were steamrollered by Nawaz Sharief to give unfettered powers to the prime minister being removed and possibly new ones inserted, especially about the NSC. Trying to rein in the army turned out to be Nawaz Sharief's nemesis.

Twelve years after the RCDS, Gen Musharraf is shaping into the mould of an illustrious predecessor, Gen Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, who took an indefinite extension as army chief and whose career was terminated by a mysterious air crash. While two of Musharraf's mentors -- Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan -- had to relinquish the office of president due to failures on the battlefield, Musharraf is the only general to have won the top job despite, rather due to, the failure at Kargil.

The lesson on Kargil from Pakistan, if one was needed, is the pre-eminence of the army in decision-making. Because there is no power-sharing arrangement between the elected and non-elected institutions in Pakistan, there is frequent disequilibrium. The political class needs the army for its survival. The military in turn has made its own interests coterminous with national interest.

But the two RCDS-trained generals are forgetting that Pakistan is hemmed in between the Taleban in Afghanistan and the jihadis in Jammu & Kashmir. These extremist forces, as many in Pakistan will tell you, are not fully under the control of the army and enjoy a degree of autonomy that even the Inter-Services Intelligence resents.

The Pakistani Army's zeal to possess J&K by jihad can only fuel the secessionist zeal among the non-Punjabi provinces in Pakistan. Fighting a jihad against India for the happiness(?) of three million Kashmiris at the cost of 140 million Pakistanis is certainly not good strategy. Gen Musharraf Sir, this is against your national interest.


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The ceasefire in J&K

Major General Ashok K Mehta (retd)

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